Skip to main content

Mapping Your Research: 2. Choose A Topic

This guide helps with understanding and planning the research process.

Quick Tips for Choosing a Topic

  • Select a topic that interests you: Personal interest makes research more enjoyable and any presentation of the findings more enjoyable for its audience.
  • If possible, select a topic you are already researching for another project: This may not only save you some time but allow you to explore different facets of the same topic and build a deeper understanding.
  • Select a topic that is not likely to be chosen by others: Imagine a course instructor reading a dozen papers on the same two or three topics. Finding an original topic or perspective is likely to be looked upon favorably.

Choosing A Topic

In cases where your professor does not not assign you a specific research topic, you will be given the freedom to choose what you will be researching.  You will want to choose a topic that is specific enough to be unique, but not so narrow that it will be difficult to find sources to support your argument.  At this point it is important to understand that you will be DEVELOPING a topic, rather than simply thinking of something that you are interested in and deciding to research it.  As tempting as it is to think research is that simple, that is unfortunately not the case.  Therefore you will want to develop a research topic, which can be done by following the below steps (note however these are mere suggestions, not some rule of research practices):

Select A Broad Topic

Find Background Information

Develop A Research Question

Select A Broad Topic

This can be something that you are interested in, something that was mentioned in class, that you found in your textbook, that you've been hearing a lot about in the news, etc.

Find Background Information

Scholarly reference sources such as encyclopedias and dictionaries will provide you with a short, authoritative overview of your topic that can help identify some of the key concepts, authors, and sources associated with the topic.  In short, reading a reference article can save you some time and help you figure out exactly what it is about your topic that you are interested in researching.  

One way to find reference sources is to search the library catalog using your broad topic as a keyword and coupling it with the search code "sucr," which limits your search to only retrieving print reference materials.  For example, if your broad topic is environmentalism, you could do a search in the library catalog for environmentalism sucr and expect to retrieve a list of reference books about environmentalism.  Another way to find reference information is online through our Electronic Resources page.  This page can also be found by clicking the Article Databases link at the top of the library homepage.  From this page, select Reference Sources from the Type options on the right side of the scroll box at the top of the page and then click Find Resources.  This will provide you with a list of online scholarly reference sources. 

Non-scholarly reference sources, such as Wikipedia, can also be good starting points.  Keep in mind however that anyone can edit Wikipedia entries, so anything that you find you will want to verify by checking the sources used in the entry.  As a place to find key concepts and key figures though, Wikipedia can be quite useful.  

Develop A Research Question

Once you have done some background research and found something about your topic that you are interested in researching, then developing a RESEARCH QUESTION based on the key elements that you would like to explore will greatly help.  Articulating your topic as a question will help you to start thinking about what types of information will help answer the question and will help provide key terms and concepts for your searching.  Say during your preliminary research you discovered that some of the major issues with environmentalism revolve around climate change.  Since you are also in a political science class that has been touching on how political affiliations shape public opinion, you start to wonder how politics influence public perceptions on climate change.  A question that you could pose from this that will help with starting your research could be:  

In what ways (if any) do political affiliations play a factor in personal perceptions on climate change?   

Designing a topic question is an excellent starting point for research as it allows you to start searching in-depthly for the information that will help you form and defend your main argument. Now that you have some ideas on choosing a topic, move on to the next step where you will learn to use your topic to develop key words.